Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Path

So I just finished playing though The Path, a "short horror game" by Tale of Tales. Before I start let me just say this probably isn't a game for everyone. That being said... I totally enjoyed it.

The Path puts you in the shoes of six sisters ranging from 6 to 19. The story of the game is simple, and a familiar one, take a basket to your grandmothers house in the forest, and stay on the path. Just like the story Little Red Ridinghood on which it's based, the game would be incredibly short and uneventful if you just went straight down the path to Grandmother's without venturing into the woods surrounding her home.

When you leave the path is when things get interesting. The gameplay consists of you wandering the woods collecting "memories" and flowers while you explore. as each Red sister, the goal is to find and confront the wolf. However wolf is just a metaphor for what, or whom you find in your journey. Each sister has a different wolf, as well as different memories that can be found throughout the woods. Insight into each of the sister's personalities is achieved through finding memories as well as their separate animations and clothing.

Each girl's personality can be seen through their actions and representation in the game. They range from Robin, the quintessential "Little Red Ridinghood", to the dark minded goth Ruby, to the eldest, order bent Scarlet. The woods themselves are represented as incredibly creepy and bleak for the most part, with key areas being in more vibrant colors, some of which are more creepy than the bleak woods themselves. Tons of post processing effects give the game a claustrophobic, gritty, old film feel, while strange drawings and pictograms help to push the atmospheric feel of the game. Over all, visually, the game is a treat, and combined with the excellent sound (consisting of a handful of melodies and a slew of atmospheric sounds) I couldn't help but feel uneasy the entire time I played the game. Anytime I started to feel comfortable, I'd approach a wolf, and a scene would be activated that twisted my stomach into knots and kept it there until I was back at the title screen. 

besides the art style, and atmopshere, design choices in this game that I particularly enjoyed were the girl in white, who always seemed to be around to point you towards lost memories or new areas, subtley guiding you from a distance. I also really enjoyed how I couldn't find the path after I left it. My first play though as Robin, I wandered off into the woods and found a lake. She commented how the fog was like "A cloud howling at the moon," As I read her dialog, I heard a chain rattle, and loosing my nerve, I started to run the way I came. However, I couldn't find the path anywhere. Also, running too much causes the screen to darken, a heartbeat to be heard, and other incredibly creepy sounds to be heard. I play with headphones in the dark, and I have yet to build up the courage to keep running and see if anything happens after that. It creeps me out THAT much.

As I said earlier, this game isn't for everyone. However, if you're open to interpret this game yourself, and you enjoy a slow paced, creepy, atmosphere driven, game, check this out. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What Games Mean

I've known for a long time what games are to me personally, and my belief that games can be more than just a fun experience, but an emotional and thought provoking one as well, is what has driven me more than anything to pursue this career.

Today I witnessed something that reaffirmed my personal belief in the way games touch people. There's a game called Passage by Jason Rohrer if you haven't played it yet, I DEMAND that you play it before you finish this blog post. Seriously, it takes only 5 minutes to complete, and if you don't play it now, it will be ruined forever for you below.

Played it?
Good. Now I seriously enjoyed Passage finding it one of the definitive art/indie games out there, a shining example of how emotions can tie into gameplay directly instead of visuals or sound. Well today in lecture our instructor, Keyvan mentioned it, and a couple of my buds in class, Kip and Josh, hadn't played it. Well on break they both loaded it up, and I got to see both of their reactions to it. Their differences in opinion were astonishing. 

Kip played through it, taking it on an emotional level, but without realizing that you could move up or down. Upon realizing this, he felt cheated and tried to explore with what time was left, but unfortunately time ran out for his companion. As he sat yelling at the screen about how it wasn't fair, time ran out for his character too, and the title faded to screen.  It was obvious by the look on his face that this game had affected him on a deep level.

Josh on the other hand, I could hear from the rows in front of me saying how it was the worst game he had ever played, completely pointless, and how he would rather play Shadow the Hedgehog than this game.

Now, neither opinion is wrong, and what I know about both of them, their reactions were fitting. That being said, Kip's reaction was more in line with what the developer had expected, and similar to the reaction I had the first time I played it. That kind of reaction however, the one that I felt, and the one I saw Kip have, is what drives me to make games. It's proof that games can be more than just games, just fun. It's proof that games can mean more.

In contrast however, Josh's reaction is proof that no game can reach everyone. That being said, if I can make a game that gets one person to react like Kip did to Passage, then I'll have achieved my goal as a designer.

Did you play Passage? what did you think? What are games to you?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Structure of Game Design

So this past month, I had a class in which we were given one month to make a game of our choice. I chose to do a platformer which I called "Just Beyond".

The concept of it was you were a teddy bear who was accidentally dropped out a car window on a road trip, and spent every waking moment trying to find the boy who owned him. I'm pretty proud of what I achieved, however incomplete it may be (I plan to polish it up and put it up over spring break). However, The class taught me some really valuable lessons about designing a game.

Know your limits:
By limits, I mean both deadlines (time limits) and what you can achieve. I tend to have the attitude that whatever you put your mind to you can achieve, and I truly believe that. However, having the first game I made being a platformer with three different levels, all with (digitally) hand drawn graphics made by myself, that's a bit much to do in one month. I did get surprising amounts of it done, but unfortunately, alot of graphics fell by the wayside, which leads into another important fact...

Feature Creep:
It's called creep for a reason, those little "wouldn't it be cool if..." moments we ALL have that just slide into our minds while we're doing something. What makes it worse, is when you have an art program, or a compiler in front of you, you have the ability to try out that idea right then. Break that habit now, right now. It's great to have ideas, but when you have a plan, stick to it. Write the new ideas down, and set them aside, finishing what you have planned first, that's why you have the design doc. 

For instance, when I made the projectiles that my character throws (blueberries) I had them hit the ground, splat, then slowly drip and leak over the edge of the platform. It looked great, and it came from one of those "wouldn't it be cool if" moments, but I ended up spending an entire afternoon working on that, that could have been better spent getting my data saving and loading from the game. In the end, I had to disable that animation anyways, because I didn't have an animation for when they hit the walls, and didn't have time to make one.

Never Give up:
Take the term deadline seriously. The nights before both of my milestones were due, me and some buddies from class had study groups that lasted from 11am one morning to 5pm the next day. All of that was coding, with maybe a couple 10-20 minute breaks for food or caffeine. The point is, we were going to work our hardest to knock our games out of the park, even if that meant not sleeping til after we turned in the assignment and left class. If this is what you want to do, prove it to yourself, and your instructors, by stepping up to the plate and putting all your energy into what you're making. The game will come out better for it, and you'll have something you can be proud of in the end.

All in all the class was a great experience, and alot of fun. I have alot of things to keep in mind for my next projects, but having experienced them first hand, I'll be all the more prepared for them the next time they come around.